Skip To Main Content

Every product is carefully selected by our editors and experts. If you buy from a link, we may earn a commission. Learn more. For more information on how we test products, click here.

Sepia tone close up of Charles Bronson

Charles Bronson’s Ultimate Prison Bodyweight Workout

So, the gym is closed and the world is under lockdown, guess that means you’re free to eat whatever you want and avoid working out, right? Wrong. Now is the perfect time to get yourself back into shape by steering clear of the temptations we regularly face in our day-to-day lives. Without the lure of after-work drinks, take-out lunches and hungover dirty bird, your body should really be thriving. But so many of us are using isolation as an excuse to forgo any diet or training responsibilities, which will only lead to heart-ache in the end.

Ultimate Prison Workout

Back in 2008, everybody’s favourite actor Tom Hardy shot to film portraying Bronson in a biopic of the inmate’s life. The meagre male model packed on an estimated 7lb of weight per week in the leadup to filming, eating, training and acting like Charlie. According to Hardy, his transformation was the result of calisthenics derived from ‘convict conditioning’ bodyweight workouts that have been around for years. Like Bronson, Hardy got creative, making the most of limited space and zero equipment to get insanely jacked for the role.

Hardy’s bodyweight workouts were a little bit more manageable and realistic than Charlie’s. After all, the man once picked up a 5kg weight using nothing but his beard. “I almost tore my face off. I had lockjaw for a week after, it tore out half my beard and my neck was like a lump of rock. Pain like never before, but that’s me!”

To save you the pain, we’ve combed through Hardy’s bodyweight workout plan and Charles Bronson’s Solitary Fitness to put together the ultimate bodyweight prison workout to help you get ripped with in isolation.

Man doing warm up exercise
Warm-Up | Image: DMoose

1. Warm-Up

According to Charles Bronson’s workout plan, just because you have limited space or are incarcerated doesn’t negate the need for a good warm-up. He suggests the ideal warm-up session should last from 10 minutes to half an hour.

  1. Start by stretching the core muscle groups through dynamic actions such as leg kicks
  2. Jog on the spot, intermittently switching between raising your knees high at the front and flicking your heels out at the back
  3. Touch your toes with your fingers without bending the knees
  4. stand up and down on tiptoes

Time: 60 seconds on each stretch/exercise 
30 seconds rest between sets

Woman doing handstand press-up exercise
Handstand Press-Ups | Image: CrossFit

2. Handstand Press-Ups

A Charles Bronson favourite, the handstand press-up is one of the more challenging exercises in the ultimate prison workout, but critically important. “I swear by them. Over the years, I have probably done billions of them, but each session gets better. Basically, with a press-up, it’s all in the technique,” he says.

  1. Start by facing a wall in a standing position
  2. Next, kick your feet up so you’re in a handstand position against the wall
  3. Squeeze your abs, glutes and thigh muscles
  4. Lower yourself toward the ground as far as possible in a controlled manner
  5. Clunch and push back
  6. Repeat

Reps: 10-15 reps per set
30 seconds rest between sets

Man doing dips exercise
Dips | Image: Men’s Journal

3. Dips

One of the most basic exercises in the prison workout guide, dips are a highly effective way to build chest muscles. In Solitary Fitness, Bronson reveals he has had a long love affair with the movement. “I used to do this one holding my son Mike when he was two years old. He’s 35 now, so I don’t think I’ll try it again,” he wrote. “Remember, it’s not about speed – all these exercises should be done slowly, using lots of control. This one is pure dynamic tension. I guarantee a month of these and you’ll put two inches on your chest. I do 100 with a chair; after 100, you’ll have a puddle of sweat on the floor. It’s brilliant.”

To perform dips at home;

  1. Place two chairs slightly wider than leg length apart
  2. Hold the top of the back area with both hands
  3. Slowly bend arms
  4. Sink your upper body towards the ground
  5. Do not touch the ground, rather bring the body back up again in a controlled motion.
  6. Keep your back straight.

Reps: 10-15 reps per set
30 seconds rest between sets

Man doing sit-ups
Sit-ups | Image: 4×6

4. Sit-ups

We all know how to do a sit-up, but there are a number of different variations on the iconic movement. According to Charlie, the style of sit-up has little bearing on the final result in this bodyweight workout. “There are dozens of variations of sit-ups, but basically they all do the biz,” he wrote. “My favourite is ‘the crunches’; feel on chair, hands on back of head, and go!”

While sit-ups are obviously good for bringing those abs out, Bronson has another reason for developing on your core. “I ask you, how will you be if someone punches you in the stomach? Well, isn’t it nice to be able to smile and say, ‘Err … can’t you hit any harder than that?’ Your belly (abdomen) is your centre: if you harden up your core (obliques), it will take you through a lot of problems later.” To execute;

  1. Lie on your back on the floor in front of a bench
  2. Set your heels atop the bench and make sure your knees and hips are bent to 90 degrees
  3. Cross your arms at the chest
  4. Flex your waist to raise your shoulders and scapulas off the floor
  5. Crunch straight up toward the ceiling as high as possible whilst keeping your lower back on the mat
  6. Slowly lower your shoulders back to the floor, and immediately go into the next repetition

Reps: 10-15 reps per set
Sets: 5
Rest: 30 seconds rest between sets

Man doing squats
Squats | Image: HIIT Academy

5. Squats

One of the most important exercises for any fitness regime, at-home or otherwise, squats must be incorporated into your bodyweight workout plan. While the gyms are closed, it can hard to find barbells and weights to up your strength, so you might have to rely on your friends and housemates. “When I’m lucky enough to mix with my fellow cons, I often squat with one of them on my back as it’s good for balance and strengthens up the back as well as the legs,” Bronson wrote. When you’re alone, start with some pillows from your bed, a chair or a bench. “First, just do your ten. When you do ten with a chair, go for 30 – if not more – without a chair. Hell, why not 50 or even 100? There is no excuse for anybody in the Bronson workout.” To execute;

  1. Put your arms straight out in front of you, parallel to the ground, chest up and spine in a neutral position.
  2. Keep your entire body tight the entire time.
  3. Breathe deeply, break at your hip and push your butt back. Keep sending your hips backwards as your knees begin to bend.
  4. As you squat down, focus on keeping your knees in line with your feet.

Reps: 10-15 reps per set
Sets: 3
Rest: 30 seconds rest between sets
Muscles Targeted: Quadriceps, Glutes

Man doing burpees
Burpees | Image: Edar Artiga

6. Burpees

Another good heart-pumper, burpees are a favourite of cross-fitters, functional fitness and bodyweight workout fanatics alike. Bronson said they are a great exercise for stamina and strength. “You need to do these sorts of exercises simply as it’s all-round fitness; it pushes you, you’ll be puffing and panting and sweating, but it’s all for your own benefit, so don’t cheat: do it and enjoy it. You’ll get faster as time goes on until you have it perfected. The average man in the street can do five without speeding up, so, when you get up to 50, be proud of yourself!”

  1. Start with your body in a standing position
  2. Jump down into a crunching position
  3. Kick your leg out into a push-up position
  4. Keeping your back as flat as possible, bring your feet towards your hands in a jumping motion
  5. Try to keep your knees between your elbows
  6. From here, keeping your back straight, jump up to the standing position and on your return to the ground resume the position you took off from

Reps: 20-25 reps per set
Sets: 3
Rest: 45 seconds rest between sets

Man doing band pull-aparts exercise
Band Pull-Aparts | Image: Atemi Sports

7. Band Pull-Aparts

“Here’s an exercise to build muscle. No weights needed,” Bronson writes in Solitary Fitness. “Get a towel, vest or whatever (ideally a material that is stretchy, but not nylon as this could burn your hands or create static within your body). If I’ve no towel or shirt (often I will be in solitary confinement and have nothing, just a bare cell), I still do it with my fingers entwined, pulling hard and then relaxing, it’s the same principle.” To perform a band pull-apart;

  1. Stand up straight and hold an exercise band out in front of you at around chest height. Make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart.
  2. Pull the band apart, squeezing your shoulder blades together
  3. Return to the starting position

Reps: 30 reps per set
Sets: 5
Rest: 45 seconds rest between sets

Man doing ab exhale exercise
Ab Exhale | Image: BDS

8. Ab Exhale

Every gym junkie knows the importance of doing sit-ups and crunches, but there are other ways to get rock-hard abs that don’t involve getting down on the ground. “Your abdominal muscles are very, very important,” Bronson writes in Solitary Fitness. “They’re not there for flashing off by showing a six-pack, they’re there to help ward off all sorts of diseases. If, in the end, you develop a six-pack then that’s just a spin-off benefit.”

This is one of the strangest exercises in Charles Bronson’ prison workout guide. It actually feels like you aren’t doing anything at all, and then suddenly, you’re gassed. Here’s how you perform the ab exhale, as instructed by Charlie himself;

  1. Get an old cloth, a piece of paper or a worn-out sock
  2. Tie it to a piece of string or strong thread; anything you’ve got handy
  3. Hang it so it’s just above your head
  4. Fill your lungs up with plenty of air, tilt your head back and make that object move
  5. Be careful you don’t initially get a blackout or end up seeing black dots, or even fainting from doing this
  6. When you blow and you think you’ve finished blowing, I want you to give me the final effort in emptying your lungs all over this hanging piece of artwork.

Now, this exercise is no doubt going to blow you away, but Charlie reckons there is no shame in tapping out. “If you feel faint then have a sit down, don’t be a hero. I pump out 100 of these without a gap. Once my lungs are full, I give it some more. What it does – You will feel all sorts of things going on in your throat, chest, lungs and abdominal muscles, even your back will tingle, but primarily this will give you abdominal strength.”

Reps: 10 reps per set
Sets: 1
Rest: As long as needed

Man doing star jumps exercise
Star Jumps | Image: FITPASS

9. Star Jumps

Just the thought of Charles Bronson alone in his solitary confinement cell pumping out star jumps is a strange vision, but don’t let the image fool you, star jumps are a great example of cardio and strength movements working together. This is a simple addition to your bodyweight workout plan that is proven to keep you trim. Here’s how Charlie does it;

  1. Start in the leapfrog position and burst upwards into the shape of a star

“The star jump is a good all-round exercise,” he writes. “If you’re lucky enough to be able to do it on the grass or a nice sandy beach, then I envy you; it’s not a lot of fun doing it on concrete. Would you believe, it’s years and years since I walked on grass? The only time I see grass is through a security van window when I’m moved from one max-secure unit to another.”

Reps: 10
Sets: 2
Rest: 45 seconds

Man doing wide-grip pull-ups exercise
Wide-Grip Pull-Ups | Image: Men’s Health

10. Wide-Grip Pull-Ups

As far as bodyweight exercises and prison workouts go, there aren’t many that build significant muscle tone. That’s where the old wide-grip pull-up comes in handy. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Grab the pull-up bar with your palms facing outward, your arms fully extended, and your hands as far apart as you can (comfortably) muster
  2. Squeeze the shoulder blades together, exhale, and bring your elbows toward your hips as you raise your chin above the bar
  3. Carefully lower into the starting position
  4. Repeat

Start with: 3 sets of 5 reps
Muscles this bodyweight exercise targets: lats, delts

Man doing step-up exercise
Step-Ups | Image: HIIT Academy

11. Step-Ups

This one is one of Bronson’s favourites. According to Solitary Fitness, he performs hundreds, if not thousands every day using the bed in his cell as a step-up box. If you’ve got a chair or small stool, that should do the trick. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Put the bench (or box) in front of you
  2. Step onto the platform with one foot
  3. Drive through with your other foot, raising your knee as high as you can
  4. Lower the knee and step back to the floor
  5. Switch to the other foot and repeat

Start with: 3 sets at 60 seconds per set
Muscles this bodyweight exercise targets: quads, hamstrings, glutes

Man holding groceries with both hands and butt clench
Butt Clenches | Image:

11. Butt Clenches

The ultimate prison workout doesn’t skimp on anything, not even your anus. One of Charlie’s favourite exercises is the butt clench.

  1. Having carried out a few of the breathing movements from the previous exercise, try to isolate the anus
  2. Contract the sphincter muscles of the anus for a few seconds without straining (for those who do not know what this is, I would advise you to find out! It’s the ring of muscle that gives the final push when you empty your bowels)
  3. Imagine it closing the end of a tube leaving your body
  4. Relax them for a few seconds
  5. Confine the action to the anal area

“The contraction movements, as well as the relaxation of the sphincter muscle, should be performed smoothly and rhythmically,” Bronson advises. “Don’t strain! You don’t need to synchronise your breathing to the contraction and relaxation of the anus muscles.”

Reps: Til failure
Sets: 1
Rest: As long as needed

Wouldn’t be great if we used this time to better ourselves? Just image it; if you put the time into working out at home, you can emerge from the quarantine cocoon like the beautiful butterfly bro that you are. It won’t be easy, getting ripped without equipment and with limited area availability can tough, but it isn’t impossible. One person who knows all about working out in confined spaces is Charles Bronson, better known as Britain’s Most Notorious Prisoner.

Court appearance of prisoner Charles Bronson
Who is Charles Bronson | Image: Nick Razzell

Who is Charles Bronson?

Bronson – who was born Michael Peterson but now uses the name Charles Salvador – was first sentenced to seven years in jail for an armed robbery in 1974. A slate of violent attacks on fellow prisoners and guards prompted that sentence to be extended. He was briefly released, but it didn’t last long; Bronson was convicted for planning another armed robbery and was handed a life sentence in 1999 after taking a prison teacher hostage for almost two days. But despite being best-known as a rough and ready convict who has spent more time in solitary confinement than nearly anyone in Britain, 67-year-old Bronson is also an absolute unit. Tales of his size and strength have taken on an almost-mythical level of notoriety, perpetuated by the man himself.

“I’m the king of the press-ups and the sit-ups. I’ve already said I once did 25 press-ups with two men on my back, and I’ve squatted with three men on my shoulders,” he wrote in his autobiography back in 2000. “I’ve been making prison fitness records for as long as I can remember. Show me another man – a man half my age – who can pick up a full-size snooker table. I can. Show me another guy who can rip out 1,727 press-ups in an hour. I can … I once went eight years without using weights, then I went into a gym and bench pressed 300lb ten times. I’m 5ft 11in, I weigh 220lb and I feel as strong as did when I was 21 … There’s something deep inside me that pushes me on. I’m a solitary fitness survivor.”

So, how does someone who has spent 4/5 of their life in a 12 x 8ft steel box end up stronger and fitter than pretty much anyone on the outside? Lucky for us, old Charlie isn’t averse to handing out his secrets. Back in 2002, Bronson released a book entitled Solitary Fitness, revealing the inner-workings of his bodyweight exercises, jail workout regime and diet. We’ve collated some of his best fitness tips and exercises into the ultimate prison workout guide, perfect for solitary confinement and quarantine lockdown.

Book cover of Solitary Fitness featuring Charles Bronson laughing
Book cover of ‘Solitary Fitness’ by Charles Bronson and Stephen Richards | Image: John Blake

Buy it here

Charles Bronson’s Prison Workout

The best part about Charles Bronson’s ultimate prison workout is that the exercises require no equipment and are super easy to complete, just ask Charlie himself. “They are so simple to do. You can do them anywhere, any time you choose, and it’s a great way to relieve tension or stress. Sure, you can always have a wank to relieve tension, but why be a wanker when you can be a super-fit person?”

Too right, Charlie.

General FAQ

What is the best bodyweight exercise for muscle growth?

The best bodyweight exercises for muscle growth are pull-ups, push-ups and dips.

What is the best no-equipment legs exercise?

While weighted squats are an obvious choice, doing step-ups on a bench or chair will also be highly valuable.

Are prison workouts effective?

Prison workouts are effective but not in the same way traditional strength training is. You are less likely to build significant muscle tissue using only bodyweight exercises.

You’ll also like:
Mark Wahlberg’s Diet & Workout Plan
Joe Rogan’s Diet & Workout Plan
10 Best Shoulder Exercises for Men